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Practices and patterns of extraterritorial security: Introducing the Central Asian Political Exiles (CAPE) database

Article by Dr John Heathershaw, Rosa Brown and Eve Bishop

November 21, 2016

Practices and patterns of extraterritorial security: Introducing the Central Asian Political Exiles (CAPE) database

As political opposition, free press and civil society have disappeared from much of Central Asia they have moved into exile. There are none more aware of this shift than the security ministries of the Central Asian states. Just as these individuals and movements faced repression at home, they now face it abroad, especially elsewhere in the Former Soviet Union, but also beyond. The Central Asian Political Exiles (CAPE) database was built to chart the extra-territorial security measures deployed by Central Asian states and the human rights threats, abuses and concerns faced by exiles and opposition movements. It was initiated in October 2014 by John Heathershaw and Alexander Cooley in partnership with David Lewis and Edward Lemon. At first it was constructed in an ad hoc and inductive manner as cases came up in wider research; later it became more systematic and deductive with search of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) archive and other standard sources. The first publication of the CAPE database took place in November 2016.[1] All 125 cases included in the first public edition of the database are citizens of the five Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). What we have found is the widespread and increasing use of extra-territorial security measures by all Central Asian states but with more than 75 per cent of cases relating to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.


Each entry in the database is a particular political exile from one of the five republics. An ‘exile’, for the purpose of our analysis, is a category of emigrant who has settled or spent a prolonged period overseas for reasons which are wholly or partly of a political character. Therefore, labour migrants and other types of migrants are excluded. In some cases, the exile may not identify as an exile and may claim to be an economic migrant but may be targeted by their home country’s government for political reasons. Exiles may be refugees or asylum seekers or may not. Many of the persons in the database have sought temporary haven in many countries, often pursued by their home government. Their movements should also be included in the database entry. We identify four categories of exiles: 1) Former regime insiders and family members; 2) Members of opposition political parties and movements; 3) Banned clerics and alleged religious extremists, including alleged members of proscribed terrorist groups; 4) Independent journalists, academics and civil society activists.


Some political exiles span the boundary between two or more of these categories. Overall, the database includes some odd bedfellows from an ex-President (Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan) to lowly human rights activists and journalists. Inclusion in the database does not imply an assumption either of innocence or of guilt on charges filed by the state of concern. Many persons have been found guilty in their home states in trials that do not meet international standards. A few have been found guilty in jurisdictions where fair trials are found. Many others have not been convicted of anything. What they share in common is having been deemed threatening to some degree by the regime of their home country.


Incidents and measures recorded in the database are those based on already-published sources such as court records, reports by human rights groups and credible press reports. We also gather information direct from exiles, their family members, lawyers and activists which is not in the public domain or included in the public database. In other words, the database only includes information already made public. It serves as a place for the collation and analysis of data – a one-stop shop to learn about political exiles and, more importantly, the patterns of extra-territorial security to which they are subject.


‘Extraterritorial security’ denotes a range of practices to track and ultimately detain, capture or assassinate an exile who is deemed a threat to the regime in power. While security officers may portray their targets as transnational militants or terrorists who are threats to national or international security – sometimes with due cause – they are subject to extraterritorial measures due to being identified as a threat to regime security. We identify three stages of extra-territorial security. Individuals are:

  • Put on notice, which includes informal warnings and threats to individuals and intimidation of family members and formal arrest warrants, including Interpol notices, and extradition requests
  • Arrest and/or detention, which includes short-term and long-term periods of detention ordered by courts and irregular detention and detention without charge, and conviction to serve a sentence at home
  • Rendition and/or attack, which includes a formal extradition to face torture and imprisonment, informal rendition often following release from detention, disappearance, assassination and serious attacks with an attempt to murder or disable.


A total of 38 persons (over 30%) of the entries in the database have been subject to these most extreme measures of extraterritorial security.


Table 1: Central Asian political exiles by country and stage

 Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Total
Kazakhstan 9110
Kyrgyzstan 5229



Whilst there were only 10 cases in the database which involved Kazakhstan, all of these cases featured serious incidents associated with Stage Two – arrest, extradition – and Stage Three – torture, rendition and death. This may reflect the fact that all but two Kazakh cases involved exiles who were former insiders or secular opposition activists, indicating the acutely political nature of the state’s deployment of extraterritorial security. Many of these exiles fled to places beyond the former Soviet space to countries which will not extradite persons on politically-motivated charges or where torture is possible. However, this does not free the exiles from the long arm of the Kazakh state. In 2007, Rakhat Aliyev was sacked from his position as Kazakh ambassador to Austria, divorced from President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter and sentenced in absentia to 40 years in prison for organised crime.[2] Aliyev was also charged with the kidnap and murder of two Kazakh bankers- the lawyers of whom have been accused of belonging to a cover organisation for the Kazakh secret service.[3] Aliyev handed himself in to the Austrian authorities, though they refused Kazak extradition requests on the grounds of the country’s appalling human rights record.[4] Whilst in investigative custody, Aliyev died in an Austrian prison in February 2015. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.



Since the 2005 ‘Tulip Revolution’ Kyrgyzstan has attempted to shake its authoritarian Soviet-era image, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that it contributes just nine of the cases in the CAPE database. In addition, its extraterritorial security measures have mostly targeted former regime insiders from previous governments that the successor regime claims have genuinely committed crimes and fled to avoid justice. Targets include former presidents’ families, namely the Akayevs[5] and the Bakiyevs. Both former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev[6] and his son Maxim have been convicted in absentia and given lengthy prison sentences, Kurmanbek for allegedly organising mass killings[7] and Maxim for attempted murder[8] and corruption.[9] The type of extraterritorial actions taken against these exiles also suggests an attempt to move away from authoritarian traditions, with formal arrest warrants and court cases favoured over intimidation and violence. This transition has not been absolute, however, with our research uncovering several cases of individuals who experienced more severe and informal forms of extraterritorial action against them. These include abduction by plain clothed officers and alleged beatings by Kyrgyz authorities.[10] Numerous countries have also refused extradition requests from Kyrgyzstan for reasons including unfair trials and politically motivated charges.[11] These reports suggest that, while Kyrgyzstan’s extraterritorial campaign is less severe than other Central Asian states, it still seeks to ‘export repression’ to places where exiles have found safe haven.



Tajikistan is one of two countries that feature most frequently in the database with a total of 47 recorded cases. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg with the government itself claiming in the first six months of 2016, that Russia alone had extradited 71 citizens back to the country.[12] There appears to have been a huge spike in the number of cases in the last 2-3 years, reflecting a hardening of Tajikistan’s repressive state. Just six of the 47 cases occurred before 2010, and just sixteen before 2014. In September 2015, Tajikistan’s repression of political opposition movements culminated in the forced closure of the country’s principle opposition party – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Official observers estimated that hundreds of IRPT members were arrested and imprisoned on politically motivated charges.[13] However, the regime’s desire to suppress its critics has not been confined to its borders.


Table 1 indicates that Tajikistan was one of the countries with the highest number of incidents from Stage One – charges, INTERPOL notices and intimidation often against exiles who lacked a public profile prior to this persecution – in addition to having one of the highest totals overall. Included in these 47 Tajik cases were incidents of intimidation, arrest and even assassination, in the case of Umarali Kuvatov – the founder of Group 24 who was shot dead in Istanbul in March 2015. Kuvatov had previously been in cooperation with Shamsullo Sokhibov, the son-in-law of the President Imomali Rakhmon, though claimed his shares had been taken by Sokhibov by force. In March 2015 Kuvatov was shot dead on the streets of Istanbul after being tracked around the world from Russia to UAE to Kyrgyzstan before moving to Turkey.[14] He was arrested at the request of the Tajik government and detained in Dubai before being released; he had just acquired legal refugee status shortly before his death. The research revealed that the Tajik authorities have not simply targeted the ‘high profile’ secular opposition activists like Kuvatov. Less significant members of Group 24 and their families have also suffered from extra-territorial security. Nematullo Kurbonov returned to Tajikistan after threats were made against his family. Kurbonov was arrested at Dushanbe airport on 9th October 2014, though later disappeared. Some sources have claimed that Kurbonov is serving a four year prison sentence though there remains no official record of a trial.[15] Kurbonov’s story and others like it reinforce David Lewis’ proposition that transnational spaces in Central Asia have resulted in regimes targeting families as a means to bind exiles to their home countries.[16]


Furthermore, incidents involving the other three groups of exiles – former insiders, alleged religious extremists and independent activists – were also significant. Dodojon Atuvulloev – former publisher of the independent newspaper Charogi Ruz (Day Light) – was stabbed by two unidentified assailants in Moscow in 2012.[17] Although Atuvulloev survived, he has endured further trauma as an INTERPOL red notice denied the journalist entry to Russia and Georgia in 2013, despite having held political refugee status in Germany since 2002.[18] There has been an overwhelming rise in Tajik asylum applicants. In the first half of 2016, 660 Tajiks sought asylum in Poland, surpassing the 527 applicants throughout 2015.[19] Yet Atuvulloev’s story illustrates that even those who have received refugee status do not have their freedom, in addition to Tajikistan’s misuse of intergovernmental organisations. In August 2016, an INTERPOL red notice was posted for Muhiddin Kabiri in violation once again of commitments made by the international police organisation in 2015 not to post notices in politically-motivated cases.



The total number of cases in the database that involved Turkmenistan is significantly lower than those involving Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, it should not be assumed that these figures suggest that Turkmenistan is not a state of concern in this area of extraterritorial security. For the 11 cases that did feature in the database, the extent of Turkmenistan’s wrath was felt, particularly in the case of Akmukhammet Bayhanov. As leader of the opposition movement Hereket, Bayhanov faced politically motivated charges of assisting Moscow-based Turkmen opposition exiles, which resulted in a four year prison sentence.[20] During his sentence, Bayhanov spent several months at Ovadan-Depe, a prison outside Ashgabat notorious for its extensive use of torture.[21] Like Kazakhstan, it is former insiders and secular oppositionists that compose the majority of the 11 cases. Therefore, the extent that these figures represent the full extent of Turkmenistan’s extraterritorial security may be questioned due to the enforced censorship and complete lack of political space in the country for almost the entire time since independence. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s government has maintained systematic control over the country’s media; Freedom House estimated that in 2014 only 12.4% of the population had access to the internet.[22]



The state of Uzbekistan presents a strong example of trends witnessed in the region, accounting for 37% of exiles in the CAPE database. The likely reason for this is its harsh repression of political opponents and independent religious movements that has forced thousands to flee abroad.[23] The Uzbek regime has perhaps the most extensive and institutionalised system of extra-territorial security with many long-standing cases compared with Tajikistan. Thirty-five per cent of all Uzbek cases progress to the third and final ‘stage’ of extraterritorial security, compared with 26 per cent among the other Central Asian states.


Among Uzbek cases in the database, three major commonalities were identified. First, an overwhelming majority of exiles have been sought for affiliations with banned religious organisations and religious extremism.[24] Religious exiles from Uzbekistan are often charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’, implying paranoia within the regime about its endurance and the threat from Islamic fundamentalism. This type of accusation is also perhaps used to gain legitimacy for its extraterritorial campaign, as Uzbekistan often frames its actions as part of the wider global fight against terrorism.


The second trend identified relates to Uzbek officials using a mix of formal and informal mechanisms to attempt to control exiles, which draws parallels to its handling of domestic affairs. Formal tactics include the use and misuse of legal and policing agreements, while informal mechanisms include surveillance, threats and attacks, abductions, forcible renditions and even assassinations. The case of suspected IMU member Ikromzhon Mamazhonov is illustrative of the more severe use of these tactics. He was detained in Russia in 2012, with his extradition being ordered by Uzbekistan and upheld by Russian courts. With ECtHR involvement, Mamazhonov’s extradition was eventually stayed in March 2013 and he was released from detention. He seemingly disappeared, however, and a few months later his lawyer received a phone call from a man identifying himself as Mamazhonov, who stated that he was being held in custody in Andijan, Uzbekistan. His current whereabouts remain unknown.[25]


The final trend seen partially in the above example is that Uzbekistan, like Tajikistan, maintains deep inter-service contacts with Russia’s security services, who seemingly aid it in its extraterritorial campaign. The case of Mamazhonov implies collaboration and complicity by Russian officials, as do other abduction cases.[26] The database also records occurrences of Uzbek officials interrogating citizens held in Russian prisons,[27] as well as Russian authorities denying Uzbek exiles’ asylum requests[28] and using their own migration laws to assist Uzbekistan in extraditing wanted persons.[29] Overall, analysis of cases involving Uzbekistan highlighted the extraordinary measures it takes to control its exiles and the extent to which the Tashkent regime has exported repression.



The CAPE database represents the first systematic, recurrent collation and analysis of all cases of exile and extra-territorial security in the Central Asian space.[30] It provides a source for further research and a resource for human rights activists and those who support asylum seekers to put individual cases in their wider political context. Annual reviews and updates are planned with the support of postgraduate research assistants at the University of Exeter. Unfortunately, the cases of extra-territorial security are increasing in number and the CAPE database is likely to increase in size at a dramatic rate as more sources become available and more cases are documented. Further research is needed to plot the relationship between informal measures of intimidation and persecution of friends and family members alongside the formal measures of exporting repression.

[1] For more on the CAPE Database please visit the project website:

[2] BBC, Kazakh pair in Austria trial after Aliyev jail death, April 2015,

[3] Tony Paterson, Rakhat Aliyev: Claims of murder over death of rival to Kazakhstan’s president in Austrian prison, The Independent, March 2015.

[4] Malta Today, Austrian judge rules Rakhat Aliyev was not murdered in jail, December 2015,

[5] Askar Akeyev ruled from 1990 (during the Soviet era) until the March 2005 Tulip Revolution.

[6] Bakiyev ruled from 2005 until 2010, when protests saw his government collapse.

[7] BBC News, Kyrgyzstan former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev sentenced, February 2013,

[8] Jim Armitage, Despot’s son with £3.5m home sued for ‘ordering hit on Briton’, Evening Standard, March 26, 2015,

[9] BBC News, Kyrgyzstan convicts ex-leader’s son Maxim Bakiyev, March 2013,

[10] Amnesty International, Eurasia: Return to torture: Extradition, forcible returns and removals to Central Asia, London: Amnesty International, 2013, 49-50.

[11] Belsat, Zhanysh Bakiyev to escape punishment?, September 6, 2012,; Jerome Taylor, Kyrgyzstan’s ‘prince’ Maxim Bakiyev in the dock as US extradition battle begins, The Independent, December 7, 2012,

[12] Asia Plus, Tajikistan conducts negotiations with Interpol member nations over extradition of IRPT leader, July 2016,

[13] Human Rights Watch, Tajikistan: severe crackdown on political opposition, February 2016,

[14] IWPR contributor, Tajik Dissident’s Murder Rattles Opposition, Global Voices, March 2015,

[15] Human Rights Watch, ‘Tajikistan’.

[16] David Lewis. 2015. Illiberal spaces: Uzbekistan’s extraterritorial security practises and the spatial politics of contemporary authoritarianism. Nationalities Papers 43: 146.

[17] Reporters Without Borders, Tajik opposition journalist stabbed in Moscow, January 2012,,41676.html

[18] Radio Free Europe, Russia denies entry to Tajik opposition journalist, July 2013,

[19] Yan Matusevich, The Quiet Tajik Refugee Crisis, The Diplomat, August 2016,

[20] Farangis Najibullah and Muhammad Tahir, Campaign Seeks Proof That Former Turkmen Minister Alive,  Radio Free Europe, October 2013,

[21] Ibid.

[22] Freedom House, Turkmenistan, 2015,

[23] David Lewis, Exporting repression: Extraterritorial practices and Central Asian authoritarianism, in A. Hug (ed.), Shelter From the Storm: The Asylum, Refuge and Extradition Situation Facing Activists from the Former Soviet Union in the CIS and Europe, London: The Foreign Policy Center, 2014, 11.

[24] Political opponents, activists and journalists feature too, in smaller numbers.

[25] European Court of Human Rights, Case of Mamazhonov v. Russia. Judgment, October 2014,

[26] For example, European Court of Human Rights, Case of Abdulkhakov v. Russia. Judgment, October 2012,; European Court of Human Rights, Case of Ermakov v. Russia. Judgment, November 7, 2013,; European Court of Human Rights, Case of Kasymakhunov v. Russia. Judgment, November 2013,

[27] Vitaly Ponomarev, Гражданин Узбекистана совершил самоубийство в московском СИЗО после угроз сотрудников узбекских спецслужб [A citizen of Uzbekistan committed suicide in a Moscow SIZO after threats from the officials from the Uzbek special services], Memorial, December 2012,

[28] No individual in our database who applied for full refugee status in Russia had their request accepted.

[29] For example, European Court of Human Rights, Case of Rakhimov. Russia. Judgment, July 2014,

[30] For a more detailed discussion of the Tajik and Uzbek cases in the database see Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw, Dictators Without Borders: power and money in Central Asia, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017, chapter 8

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